A Watson Lake resident says she’s hoping her tumultuous experience as a board member can lead to better legislation and more protection for those who want to bring their concerns to light.
Elisabeth Lexow was voted off the Help and Hope For Families Society board in November, two months after becoming vocal about financial mismanagement at the society.
She had pointed to charges on the society’s credit card for airline tickets, a sofa that may have ended up in the executive director’s house, and a trip to the hair salon.
Shelter representatives say that some honest mistakes were made, but they deny that any money was deliberately misspent.
The Department of Health and Social Services is auditing the organization and Yukon’s registrar of societies has an open investigation into the allegations.
Although it caused her a great deal of stress over time, Lexow said she’s learned some valuable lessons from her experience.
“If you have concerns, you really have to be careful coming forward with them,” she said.
“I was so naive. I thought ‘OK, I’ll talk to the board and we’ll work things out,’ and I never expected what came after.”
Lexow said she faced pressure from the society’s president, executive director and other board members to stay quiet with her findings.
She was accused of lateral violence, or workplace bullying, and repeatedly denied access to documents she was given permission to view by the registrar of societies.
It took an order from the Supreme Court of Yukon for Lexow to finally get her hands on those documents.
Eventually, she was kicked off the board at a meeting on Nov. 18.
“If I could turn back the clock, I would have liked to see how the organization runs its business first before becoming a board member,” she said.
“There needs to be a lot more transparency. At Help and Hope they use confidentiality to create secrecy.
“This is public money.”
Lexow said board members need protection so they can bring important information forward.
One way of doing that would be to extend the Public Interest Disclosure of Wrongdoing Act to non-profits.
The Yukon government tabled its whistleblower protection legislation in late October.
“To me it’s just ridiculous that all these board members are still there while I’m out,” she said.
“Board members need to be protected, because otherwise why would you come forward? You just get kicked out.
“That sticks to your reputation.”
Department of Health spokesperson Pat Living said the results of the financial audit are not yet available.
Lexow said she isn’t sure if she will get to see the results, or any of the department’s recommendations, but hopes she does.
She said she hasn’t had much luck communicating with the department since November.
In another development, two society staff members who had been fired in September were suddenly re-hired, according to Lexow, who said she doesn’t know why.
In November, she said she thought their dismissal was linked to the fact that they also raised concerns about financial irregularities at the organization.
“On the one hand it’s great they got their jobs back, but on the other, I wonder if it’s because the union stepped in,” she said.
Laura Hureau, executive director of the Yukon Employees’ Union, said she wouldn’t comment on the involvement of the union in any labour relations matters.
The Help and Hope For Families Society could not be reached for comment.
Contact Myles Dolphin at